January is a month of great indecision. I can’t decide if I want to say more…
If there is one thing I can say for the January books, it is that most all of the fiction made mention of great music. Some musicians I knew, some I didn’t. Some songs I knew, some I didn’t. I had fun looking it all up though.
- Sanctuary by Ken Bruen (EB & print). Music: Philip Fogarty, Anne Lardi, Rolling Stones, Snow Patrol, Johnny Duhan.
- The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat (EB & print).
- Moonlight Downs by Adrian Hyland (EB & print). Music: Lucinda Williams, Slim Dusty, Nick Cave, The Warumpi Band, Ry Cooder.
- The Catastrophist by Ronan Bennett (EB & print). Music: Charles Tenet.
- Graced Land by Laura Kalpakian (EB & print). Music: Elvis, Elvis, and more Elvis.
- The Beijing of Possibilities by Jonathan Tel (print). Music: Leonard Cohen, Beethoven, and the fictional heavy metal band, Panda Bear Soup.
- The Passage to India by E.M. Forster (EB & print).
- Barcardi and the Long Fight for Cuba by Tom Gjelten (EB & print).
- Master of Hestviken: the Son Avenger by Sigrid Undset (EB & print).
- The Persuader by Lee Child (EB & AB).
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- Fine, Thanks by Mary Dunnewold (EB). Music: Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck, Mose Allison, Talking Heads, Aaron Copeland (can you tell, Dunnewold really likes music!).
Kalpakian, Laura. Graced Land. New York: Grove Press, 1992.
Reason read: Elvis Presley was born in the month of January and if you couldn’t tell by the title of the book, Graced Land has an Elvis slant…big time. Read in his honor.
Emily Shaw, fresh out of college with a degree in social work, thinks she can heal the world Candy Striper style with her notes from her final Sociology class. Elvis has died five years prior and Emily’s first welfare client, Joyce Jackson of St. Elmo, California, is obsessed-obsessed-obsessed with the fallen idol. Joyce doesn’t need a Candy Striper. She needs to spread the work of Elvis. As she sits on her porch-turned-shrine to the king with her two daughters, Priscilla and Lisa Marie (of course), Joyce tells anyone who will listen how Elvis’s job was to sing, entertain, and look pretty, but his life’s work was to spread love, charity, and compassion. To make the world see Elvis as a humanitarian is a tall order considering many see his final years as a drug-addled, overweight has-been. Emily, instead of spending the prerequisite twenty minutes with Joyce on the first visit, ends up listening to Joyce and drinking the tea for three hours.
Later we learn how Joyce came to be such an Elvis fanatic. We leave Emily’s little life and follow Cilla’s childhood, describing how her mom was obsessed with Elvis since forever. I think the story would have held up better if Kalpakian had stuck with the story from Emily’s point of view, rather than brief first person narratives from Cilla. They didn’t serve much purpose other than to fill out Joyce’s personality as a mother. There is one critical scene that Cilla had to narrate, but I think Kalpakian could have found a different way.
But, back to the plot. Along the way, Emily learns Joyce is scamming the government by making money on the side. As a new social worker she needs to make a decision, turn Joyce in or give in to Elvis.
As an aside, I don’t know if Kalpakian did it on purpose, but a lot of the characters have alliterate names: Penny Pitzer, Marge Mason, Joyce Jackson…
Confessional: I had never heard of the Old Maid’s prayer before this book.
Author fact: Kalpakian also wrote Educating Waverly, also on my challenge list.
Book trivia: Real people and events from Kalpakian’s life make cameo appearances in Graced Land. Another interesting tidbit is that Graced Land was also published under the title Graceland.
Nancy said: Pearl said Graced Land is an example of a novelist using the facts of Elvis’s life to “explore themes of love, family, relationships, and even religious and socioeconomic issues” (Book Lust p 79).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the obvious chapter called “Elvis On My Mind” (p 78).
Confessional: I had a really hard time reading about Lou Reed. I had always heard stories about his despicable character and was hoping most of it was a lot of bunk; I wanted it to be that Lou felt he had to keep up a persona cultivated by his involvement with Andy Warhol and the drug infested 1960s. I was wrong. He was a dick seemingly from birth.
There is no doubt Sounes is very sympathetic towards Reed and his less than admirable character. He made excuses for his bad behavior throughout the entire book, calling Reed a “provocateur extraordinaire” as early as the high school years. It is very obvious Lou loved to push buttons early on and did not care in the very least about the consequences. It was if he had a bone to pick with the entire world and spent his entire life trying to get even. He was a troublemaker. He was mean. He acted strange. He was often cranky. Drugs made him even more paranoid than he naturally was. He was a chauvinist and had a thing against women. He welcomed violence against women and had a habit of smashing, shoving, smacking, slapping them. At times Sounes seems conflicted. He states Reed clearly meant to project an image by being a prick, but in the very same sentence admits Reed was the person he projected (p 160).
Reed and his “provocateur extraordinaire” personality aside, Sounes’s exhausted research and attention to detail jumps out of every page of the biography. You can smell the grit of New York’s grungy streets and feel the beer soaked stickiness of the music scene. Warhole, Nico, Bowie, Iggy…they all live and breathe with vibrancy in Lou Reed. It’s as if Sounes bottled their souls and that alone makes the read worth it.
I am so frigging late with this it’s not even funny. Here are my excuses: I was home-home the first weekend in October. I am hosting an art show. I’m trying to hire a new librarian. And. And! And, I have been running. Only 13.25 miles so far but it’s a start, right? I’m thrilled to be putting one foot in front of the other. But, here are the books:
- October Light by John Gardner – in honor of October being in the the title of the book and the fact that it takes place in Vermont, a place that is simply gorgeous in the fall.
- Jamesland by Michelle Huneven – in honor of October being Mental Health Awareness month.
- Long Day Monday by Peter Turnbull – in honor of police proceedurals.
- The Axe by Sigrid Undset – in honor of the fact I needed a translated book by a woman for the Portland Public Library challenge. Weak, I know.
- Isabel’s Bed by Elinor Lipman – in honor of Lipman’s birth month.
- Wyoming Summer by Mary O’Hara – in memory of O’Hara dying in October.
- An Obsession with Butterflies: Our Long Love Affair by Sharman Apt Russell – in honor of Magic Wings opening in October and the fact that Monhegan was inundated with monarch butterflies for the month of September. We even saw a few while we were home.
- Running Blind by Lee Child – started in honor of New York becoming a state in July (where Lee Child lives). However, big confessional: I am reading this out of order. My own fault completely.
LibraryThing Early Review:
- Notes from the Velvet Underground by Howard Sounes
When I look back at August my first thought is what the hell happened? The month went by way too fast. Could the fact that I saw the Grateful Dead, Natalie Merchant (4xs), Trey Anastasio, Sirsy, and Aerosmith all in the same month have anything to do with that? Probably. It was a big month for traveling (Vermont, Connecticut, NYC) and for being alone while Kisa was in Charlotte, Roanoke, Erie, Chicago, Indianapolis, and Colorado. And. And, And! I got some running done! The treadmill was broken for twenty days but in the last eleven days I eked out 12.2 miles. Meh. It’s something. Speaking of something, here are the books:
- African Queen by C.S. Forester
- Antonia Saw the Oryx First by Maria Thomas
- Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object by Laurie Colwin
- Strong Motion by Jonathan Frazen
- Beauty by Robin McKinley
- Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes
- American Chica by Marie Arana
- Florence Nightingale by Mark Bostridge
- Secret Life of Lobsters by Trevor Corson
- Die Trying by Lee Child
- Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov
Early Review cleanup:
- Filling in the Pieces by Isaak Sturm
- Open Water by Mikael Rosen
Zabor, Rafi. The Bear Comes Home. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1979.
Reason read: May is Music month.
In a nutshell:The Bear Comes Home is a story about a talking, walking, pants-wearing, saxophone-playing bear. Wrap your brain around that for a moment and then consider this: the bear is an avid reader, talks philosophy and emotionally and physically loves a woman. I knew from the inside flap this book was going to be an interesting read, especially when I read, “a vexed, physically passionate and anatomically correct inter-species love affair with a beautiful woman named Iris.” Um. Okay. It’s the “anatomically correct” piece that really puts it into perspective. But! Trust me when I say this is a deep book. I mean deeeep. Zabor is a little long winded when it comes to subjects he is passionate about. There are pages and page about jazz music and the musicians who perfected it, but somehow the entire thing works. The Bear is a little too angsty but considering his circumstances, stuck in the human world, who could blame him?
As an aside, I have two Natalie connections to this book. This time “Dancing Bear” from Leave Your Sleep (of course) and the mention of the song “But Not For Me” which Natalie has covered.
Another aside, I loved, loved, loved the musical references. Mention of Prince’s Black Album made me swoon (been missing him a lot lately).
Line to like, “It had to do with the heaviness of obsession” (p 363).
Author fact: Zabor is a musician as well as an author. Obviously.
Book trivia: Bear Comes Home features a few real life musicians. Obviously. Another piece of trivia: it won the PEN Faulkner award.
Nancy said: Pearl said Bear Comes Home is a “slightly different take on music in fiction” (Book Lust p 164).
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Music and Musicians” (p 164).
I will be traveling for part of May so who knows how many books I’ll be able to read for this month. Here is the list I will attempt:
- Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson – in honor of May being Wilson’s birth month.
- Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs – in honor of Graphic Novel month being in May.
- Mariner’s Compass by Earlene Fowler – in honor of May is Museum Month.
- Bear Comes Home by Rafi Zabor- in honor of May being Music Month.
- Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters – in honor of the first Thursday in May being Prayer Week.
- Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian – in honor of my father’s birth month. As a kid he read this book.
- Five Children and It by E. Nesbit – in honor of May being Nesbit’s birth month.
- Farthest North by Fridtjof Nansen – in honor of Peary’s birth month being in May. From one explorer to another.
- Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the series started in January in honor of Asimov’s birth month.
- Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope – to continue the series started in honor of Trollope’s birth month in April.
Benson, Michael. Why the Grateful Dead Matter. New Hampshire: University Press of New England, 2016.
Reason read: Early review for LibraryThing.
I decided to write this review a little differently. Instead of waiting until I had read the entire thing before commenting I decided this time I would write comments as I went. Here’s what happened:
I have to admit, I found some of Benson’s writing a little hokey. When he said, “there’s an app for that” I practically groaned out loud. So, this is how it’s going to be I thought out loud.
The structure of Why the Grateful Dead Matter is a little chaotic. That is to say, there is no real structure to the chapters. Just open the book and read. Doesn’t matter where you start. Doesn’t matter where you end.
This is essentially an argument without hard facts. Don’t expect an authoritarian narrative. No works cited. No in-depth research. It’s as if this book blossomed from a late night debate (possibly fueled by alcohol?); a debate with a friend about why, 50 years later, the Grateful Dead are doing a Farewell Tour. Picture it: the debate turned into Why The Grateful Dead Matter conversation. The reasons why they matter come fast and furious from Benson, political debate style, until someone says, “Man, you should write that s–t down!” And he does.
The chapter on Ripple being so zen is flimsy and without substance. It started off as a strong argument and somehow got off topic at the end. It petered out feebly when one of the last examples of zen is the Grateful Dead playing a benefit for the Zen Center. There is little substance in regards to HOW the music is “zen” and yet, the chapter on the instruments being custom made was well organized and detailed. Benson knows their equipment and knows it well.
This is one for the fans. Read this if you already love the music and just want to share in the common interest. Read this book if you already know why the Grateful Dead matter and you just want to agree, possibly shouting “Exactly! Right on, man!”
As an aside, I just bought my husband the compilation “30 Trips” for his birthday. I’m hoping Trips will contain the versions of songs Benson mentions as outstanding in Why the Grateful Dead Matter. Here is a partial list of the songs I need to find:
- Wharf Rat 12/31/78 (particularly Jerry Garcia’s guitar solo)
- China Cat Sunflower 1971 (Bucknell University)
Author fact: Benson is all over with place with his interests. According to the back cover, he writes about music, sports, crime, film, the military, and politics.
Book trivia: the early review copy I received had photographs in it, some I had never seen before. Very cool.
What can I say about March? Personally, it’s the St. Patrick’s Day 10k road race. I’ve been injured so it’s hard to anticipate how well I will or won’t do. I went for my first outdoor run this weekend and ran 7.5 with a steady sub-10 pace. That felt strong! Happy girl! And speaking of strong, here’s what’s on deck for the books:
- Naked Lunch by William Burroughs – in honor of Jack Kerouac’s birth month. Jack and William were friends…
- Family Man by Jayne Ann Krentz – in honor of Krentz’s birth month
- The Brontes by Juliet Barker – in honor of March being literature month (over 1,000 pages!)
- Means of Ascent by Robert Caro – to continue the series started in honor of Presidents Day being in February (EB)
- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson – in honor of Maine becoming a state in March
- The Assistant by Bernard Malamud – Malamud died in March.
- Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie – in honor of the Academy Awards being in February and March (HOAYS was made into a movie)
- Confessional: still reading Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan
- I am supposed to receive Why the Grateful Dead Matter by Michael Benson as a January Early Review book sometime in the month of March…As an aside, there are a few other books I haven’t received and feel bad that I never read or reviewed them. I am sure they have all been published by now and so (I can’t believe I’m saying this) I’m going to see if a library has them. If they do, I will read and review as if I got them as Early Reviews from LibraryThing. The first non-early review I am going to tackle is a book I was supposed to received in 2009 – Sanctuary of Outcasts, a memoir by Neil White.
Browne, David. So Many Roads: the Life and Times of the Grateful Dead. Read by Sean Runnette. Minneapolis: HighBridge Audio, 2015.
Reason read: I was chosen to review this an part of the LibraryThing Early Review program. I’m calling it “training” for the July Dead shows in Chicago! The big question is, how did LibraryThing know I scored tickets? ha.
This is being touted as one of the most unique & comprehensive books about the Grateful Dead ever to be written. Author David Browne claims even hardcore fans will learn something new. Since I am a blossoming 21st century Deadhead I thought I would invite my husband to listen in to give his opinion. He helped in the writing of this review.
As an audio book, this was a bit different. Neither my husband or I could follow the format at first. The prologue jumps to 1970 pretty early which confused my resident Dead aficionado. Unlike other biographies this one is not in linear chronological order. The organization is as such: Browne chooses a date significant to the Grateful Dead’s history whether it be fateful like the day Jerry and Bob met, historic like day the infamous wall of sound was conceived, or tragic like the day Pigpen died. He then centers a chapter around that day in time. But, as it was pointed out, Browne doesn’t stick to that date. He’ll leave the time frame and circle back to it again and again within the chapter. From an audio standpoint, it makes for interesting listening.
Extremely detailed and factual, Browne is spot on. Drawing from a multitude of interviews he is able bring the culture of the Grateful Dead to life. There is a sensitivity to his storytelling. For example, Hart’s pain when his father ran off with over $75,000 of the band’s earnings. The story goes much deeper than Mickey’s self imposed exile from the band and Browne illustrates the journey to forgiveness beautifully. Everything about the Dead is there: the drugs, the women, the struggles with fame, traveling, relationships within the band, the highs and lows, but mostly importantly, the music that continues to influence generations. The attention given to the Grateful Dead sound was particularly enthralling. As someone who latches onto thought provoking lyrics, the sections including Robert Hunter and his collaboration with the band are my favorite.
As a result of listening to David Browne’s So Many Roads I understand the Grateful Dead much better. I am looking forward to their Fare Thee Well tour in Chicago! I will not only be listening with my ears, but with my heart as well.
Author fact: David Browne has written other books which can be found on his own website: David Browne
Guralnick, Peter. Last Train to Memphis: the Rise of Elvis Presley. Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1994.
When Guralnick calls Elvis a “myth” is he referring to the unfolding of events that created rock and roll, or is he implying Elvis had an unverifiable existence? Was Elvis a false notion? I’m not really sure. What I am sure about is Guralnick’s ability to tease apart the smaller pieces of Elvis Aron Presley’s early life; the moments that led up to his stardom. There is certainly enough emphasis on Elvis’s shy and polite and humble beginnings as a sheltered country & western wannabe who couldn’t play the guitar worth beans. There is also emphasis on the key people surrounding Elvis during his rise to fame. It is obvious as Elvis’ stardom rose, the less he was able to discern who was trustworthy. He needed an entourage and he struggled with identity, but a growing confidence led him to expect adoration and special treatment, especially when it came to cars and women. I appreciated the historical context of the songs Elvis made famous, especially since someone else wrote them and almost always sang them first. Everyone knows Elvis made ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ famous, but few recognize the true origins of the song. I also appreciated the emphasis placed on Elvis’ connection to family. Elvis may have had a taste of reality when he had to enter the military, but he had to swallow it whole when his mother died. The event changed his life. This is where Last Train to Memphis ends. The sequel, Careless Love picks up the biography.
Last Train to Memphis includes photographs (as it should), but that’s not the cool part. The cool part is that the photos are not clumped together in the middle of the book like most biographies, but rather they begin each chapter like a little surprise.
As an aside, I found it interesting that in the author’s note, Guralnick mentions more than once that he felt he needed to “rescue” Elvis.
Reason read: Elvis was born in January. Need I say more?
Author fact: This is silly. I have been misspelling Peter’s last name for the longest time. I have been leaving out the N. It’s GuralNick.
Book trivia: Last Train to Memphis covers the years of 1935 – 1958. Careless Love continues where Last Train leaves off.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Elvis On My Mind” (p 76).
Kurlansky, Mark. Ready for a Brand New Beat: How “Dancing in the Street” Became the Anthem For a Changing America. New York: Riverhead Books, 2013.
Don’t be fooled by the title. This work is much bigger than the humble beginnings and subsequent impact of just one song. Retracing the musical roots of rhythm and blues, jazz, and rock and roll Kurlansky tackles the history of these musical genres (and the musicians who played them) and leaves no stone unturned. The best part of this book was the unveiling of the profound impact technology had on music. As technology continues to change the course of marketing music, buying music, and listening to music it is worth remembering that this trend started a long time ago.
There is one prediction I can make about this book. Whether Kurlansky intends for this to happen is another matter, but I bet people will be reaching for their old Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley albums after reading Ready for a Brand New Beat.
Favorite part: in the acknowledgments Kurlansky thanks Steve Jordan. That is too cool.
Reason read: As part of the Early Review program for LibraryThing…
Author fact: Mark Kurlansky is one of Pearl’s “Too Good To Miss” authors.
Book trivia: Kurlansky thanks drummer Steve Jordan, one of my favorites.
Horn, Stacy. Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2013.
As much as I liked Horn’s writing style it took me a long time to get through this book. Each time I put it down it took longer and longer to pick it back up. I wasn’t retaining what I read and I wasn’t interested in what happened next. There wasn’t an opportunity to wonder what was going on because there was no flow to the content. Horn’s writing felt like well crafted essays with the common theme of choral singing. While I learned a great deal about singing with others from both the modern and historic perspectives I wasn’t as connected with the subject as I wanted to be. I have a feeling this will be a hit with people who know more about singing in the chorus because the writing is fantastic.
The above makes it sound like I didn’t get anything out of Horn’s book. I did get something unusual out of it – an overwhelming desire to see New York City as she describes it. I was drawn to her magical descriptions of certain streets. I felt like I had never really seen the city like she had. It made me want to open my eyes a little wider and walk a little slower the next time I am there.
Reason read: As part of the Early Review Program for LibraryThing
When I look back on January 2013 I have a sense of relief. All things considered this month was better than the last. In the grand scheme of things January treated me kind. No major meltdowns. No minor catastrophes to speak of. I started training for Just ‘Cause in the quiet way. Four to five miles a day and I didn’t stress about the numbers. If I didn’t make five or even four I didn’t have a hissy fit or beat myself or moi up. I cut me & myself some slack; gave us a break. I know that as the months wear on this won’t always be the case, but for now it was nice to go easy on me, myself & moi. The running was a different matter. Just as relaxed a schedule but not so easy going on. The run is a little over six weeks away and I’ve done next to nil in order to train. New Guinea has been awesome in that I’m working on speed intervals on level five. Let me repeat that. Level five. Nothing to write home about. I used to operate at level nine. Enough said. On with the books! I am pretty proud of the list.
- Lives of the Painters, Architects and Sculptors by Giorgio Vasari ~ in honor of National Art Month way back in October. This finally completes the series!
- Ancient Athens on 5 Drachmas a Day by Philip Matyszak ~ in honor of Female Domination Day in Greece.
- Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray ~ in honor of January being the first month I read something from the first chapter of a Lust book. I admit I didn’t finish this one.
- Of Human Bondage by William Somerset Maugham ~ in honor of Maugham’s birth month. I also didn’t finish this one.
- Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron ~ Happy new year. Read something to make me happy.
- Idle Days in Patagonia by W. H. Hudson ~ in honor of January being the best time to visit Patagonia.
- The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll ~ in honor of Lewis birth and death month.
- Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson ~ in honor of the month all Creatures Great and Small aired.
- Tatiana by Dorothy Jones ~ in honor of January being the month Alaska became a state.
On audio I listened to:
- Final Solution by Michael Chabon ~ in honor of January being Adopt a Rescued Bird month.
- No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith ~ in honor of Female Mystery Month
- City of Thieves by David Benioff ~ last minute add-on. This was addicting!
For the Early Review program with LibraryThing:
- Gold Coast Madam by Rose Laws (started in Dec)
- Her by Christa Parravani
- Leave Your Sleep the poetry book for children by Natalie Merchant
Merchant, Natalie. Leave Your Sleep: a Collection of Classic Children’s Poetry. New York: Frances Foster Books, 2012.
I will admit I am biased when it comes to anything Natalie Merchant puts her stamp on. Over the years Ms. Merchant has proven time and time again that she is a humanitarian and an educator. She just happens to have a beautiful voice to go with that caring heart. And having all said that, that is why I bought three copies of Leave Your Sleep. I thought it was appropriate to send one to my public library. I took the chance because there is no way of knowing if they bought it for themselves (no online catalog) but I doubt they did. I also bought a copy for my sister’s family. I don’t know if they will listen to it more than once so I have asked them to pass it along to their public library when they are finished. Do you see a pattern?
Then, of course, I bought my own copy. I will not be donating mine to any local library, though!
Leave Your Sleep is comprised of nineteen poems set to music and, in the book version, accompanied by the wonderful illustrations of Barbara McClintock. Having the illustrations in front of me banishes my own imaginings but at the same time expands my visions, if that makes sense. For example, take The Sleepy Giant by Charles Edward Carryl. When I first heard Natalie’s musical interpretation in 2008 my mind saw an ancient old man for a giant who was decidedly, thanks to an accordion and somber drums, very very creepy. In the book version of Leave Your Sleep the 372 year old giant is a portly Victorian woman looking a bit like Winston Churchill. Not as creepy as my own imagination scared me. On the other hand the village in Vain and Careless by Robert Graves far exceeded the pictures in my head. The poem came alive in ways it hadn’t before seeing it on the printed page.
The continuing magic is how the book is arranged. Thoughtful consideration was given to every aspect from layout to packaging. Ms. Merchant’s introduction personalizes the project and gives the poems a resonating warmth. I am guessing she thoroughly collaborated on the illustrations because the girl in Equestrienne by Rachel Field looks a lot like Natalie in her video for the song Kind and Generous.
My favorite poem in the entire collection (cd and book) remains ee cummings’s Maggie and Milly and Molly and May. It’s my childhood played out before me.